Craving Control

It’s easy to train your brain to crave healthy food, a new study shows – all you’ve got to do is learn to pay attention to the right things. When we’re thinking about what to snack on, one particular brain region – the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) – leaps into action, helping us consider which tastes and textures we’d most enjoy. But a neaby region, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), lights up when we focus our attention on other aspects of the food, like its protein content, or the pond of grease that surrounds it. In short, the vmPFC is the frontal cortex’s … Continue reading Craving Control

Sexy Neuroscience II

a.k.a. The Revised Homunculus A new study has mapped brain sensory fields for the clitoris, vagina, uterine cervix, and nipples – and it turns out that nipple stimulation activates very similar responses to those evoked by genital contact. Yes, that’s right: fMRI scans are, once again, teaching men how to be better at sex – while telling women things they already knew. More surprising (or maybe not so surprising, actually) is the fact that most of these sensory linkages had never been mapped in the female brain before. Here’s how it breaks down: by measuring activity patterns in the somatosensory … Continue reading Sexy Neuroscience II

Living in Flatland

Our brains are terrible at understanding height, a new study reveals – and the research also explains the evolutionary trade-offs related to our flattened sense of orientation. By studying two types of brain cells that fire as we move from place to place, the researchers found that our intuitive sense of relative location hardly changes as we move vertically – and our intuitive sense of distance doesn’t seem to change at all: It looks like the brain’s knowledge of height in space is not as detailed as its information about horizontal distance, which is very specific. It’s perhaps akin to knowing … Continue reading Living in Flatland

Where’s the Remote?!

A new study has revealed the neurophysiological reasons why we can remember when we last saw a lost object, but still forget where we left it. It turns out these are pretty similar to the reasons why we can remember a person’s face, but still forget his or her name. The research focused on the interactions between three brain regions known to be involved in different kinds of memory: the temporal lobe’s perirhinal cortex (PRC), which is involved in recognizing familiar objects we detect with our senses; the hippocampus, which helps us recognize familiar places; and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is involved in working memory … Continue reading Where’s the Remote?!

Hitting the Brakes

A new driving simulator is showing how mind-controlled brakes could make the road safer for all of us – and a new study using this system shows proves that our instincts know when to brake before our conscious minds do. By attaching electrodes to the skin of volunteers in a driving simulator, researchers found that people could “hit the brakes” mentally about 130 milliseconds quicker, on average, than if they had to brake with their feet. This might not seem like much, but at 60 mph, this works out to a little over 12 feet saved – definitely enough to spare some lives. The experiment was pretty ingenious … Continue reading Hitting the Brakes

Skin Into Brain

Scientists have discovered a way to convert human skin cells into working brain cells. Cue the Weird Science theme song! Using strands of microRNA molecules and a few carefully chosen genes, a team led by Dr. Sheng Ding at the Scripps Research Institute reprogrammed the genetic code of skin cells taken from a 55-year-old patient, transforming them into full-fledged neurons that actually synapse with each other. As the lab’s report in the journal Cell Stem Cell1 explains, this new reprogramming method allows scientists to directly transform one cell type from an adult human into a normal, functional cell of a completely different type: These human induced neurons (hiNs) exhibit … Continue reading Skin Into Brain

Mirror Neurons On Trial

Decades of research have suggested that certain “mirror neuron” groups are activated not only when we perform an action, but also when we see it being performed, or even when we hear it being performed in another room. But other studies have raised strong criticisms about what this data actually means – and now the dispute is heating up more than ever. In this month’s issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a group of brain research veterans debate the evidence for and against the mirror neuron hypothesis. Their consensus is that mirror neurons do seem to play a role in our ability … Continue reading Mirror Neurons On Trial